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Cabin Tech 2013
With this gear aboard, you may wish your flight were longer.
A few years ago, wireless connectivity in the cabin was a cutting-edge feature. Now we rarely see a new airplane delivered without it and passengers routinely surf the Internet from laptops and tablets and share movies from their smartphones with fellow travelers.
The Blu-ray player, which began offering high-definition video in business jets in 2007, is already old technology. It’s rapidly being replaced by high-definition audio/video on demand (AVOD) equipment with media servers holding hundreds of movies.
In-flight Internet connectivity is a matter of bandwidth, and there wasn’t enough via satellite systems. Then Aircell introduced Gogo Biz, using ground stations. Now, a few years later, aircraft flying over the U.S. are experiencing data-transfer rates of up to 3.1 mbps. Industry insiders forecast that passengers will enjoy rates of 20 mbps within a couple of years.
As for cabin technology that isn’t related to entertainment or connectivity, we’re seeing everything from improved cabin humidification units and noise-canceling headphones to more sophisticated water-purification systems.
Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy new and upcoming products. A few of the items were not created for the business jet cabin, but are nevertheless useful additions to it.
3-D Video Comes to the Cabin
While consumer interest in 3-D video has been minimal, Custom Control Concepts (CCC) is betting that business jet owners will welcome an HD monitor that can be switched from 3-D to 2-D and that can convert 2-D images for viewing in 3-D. The certified monitors, which come with 3-D glasses, are available in sizes ranging from 42 to 64 inches (measured diagonally). CCC introduced them at the European Business Association Convention & Exhibition earlier this year and a company spokesman notes that interest has been high. “We have several upcoming projects that will be delivered with 3-D monitors,” he says.
A Better Air Purifier
Airocide designed its air purifier for the International Space Station, so it will likely work quite nicely in a business jet. In the shape of a rectangular box, just 7 by 18 by 6 inches, with an open center, it weighs only nine pounds. According to the manufacturer, it uses tiny glass rings covered in titanium dioxide to “instantly destroy almost all airborne pathogens and allergens” with which they come in contact.
In a hospital surgery environment, the device was shown to reduce bacteria and mold by 72 percent. In tests at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center, Airocide inactivated myocotoxins (toxic chemical compounds produced by fungi) at all tested concentrations. The air purifier costs $799, far less than you’d pay for a built-in system.
Headset Delivers More Comfort, Less Noise
A noise-canceling headphone from Avid appears to offer excellent value. The headset “effectively reduces environmental noise by 85 percent with a 20-decibel maximum noise attenuation,” according to the company, and 40-millimeter speakers “ensure crisp, clear sound and well-defined bass.” Gel padding in the full-size ear cups and a padded, adjustable headband provide exceptional comfort. The flat-black headset, called Clarity, weighs just seven ounces; comes with a zippered, reinforced carrying case and dual-plug adaptor; and, at $55, costs much less than many competing models.
Hands-free Video Control
At the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, last April, people lined up to experience new technology from Thales that employs an infrared camera mounted on a video screen to track eye movement and hand gestures. With gestures, you’ll be able to scroll through Web pages without touching the screen. And simply gazing at an icon for more than a couple of seconds will activate it. Thales is looking first at a launch date for airlines, but business jet installations probably won’t be far behind.
eRouter Enhances Cabin Communications
Improvements in cabin communications are coming faster and faster, and one of the latest is the eRouter from International Communications Group. Just 21 by 8.5 by 3.75 inches, ICG’s router weighs only eight pounds. It offers access to multiple communications networks, including Inmarsat, SwiftBroadband, Ku- and Ka-band, VSAT and Iridium. And in addition to satellite communication connectivity, it provides 4G global cellular services at a much lower price for data and file transfers while the airplane is on the ground. Total costs depend on the contract negotiated between customer and service provider.
Get a Checkup at 41,000 Feet
If you’d like to keep tabs on your fitness level while traveling, you may appreciate the Tinké Wellness Monitor. The matchbox-sized $120 device, from a company called Zensorium, requires no batteries and plugs into an iPhone. You need only touch a thumb to it for readings of heartbeat and respiratory rate, heart-rate variability and blood oxygen levels, all of which appear on the phone’s screen. You can share the data with a doctor or privately with others via social-media platforms.
A Jukebox on Your Jet
In 1890, Louis Glass and William Arnold invented the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph—or as those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s might remember it, the jukebox. Now Flight Display Systems has reintroduced that icon of music history as the Jet Jukebox, with a lot of new bells and whistles, including a server with 500 gigabytes of storage. It works as a wireless media source for the aircraft cabin, to stream audio and video and also to share PowerPoint presentations, photos and spreadsheets. It can hold more than 100 DVD-quality movies, allows simultaneous viewing of up to eight of them and accommodates iOS and Android devices.
Priced at $12,000, much less than you’d pay for a permanently installed AVOD server, it includes Flight Display’s worldwide moving-map database with satellite-generated imagery.
A Quieter Helicopter
Helicopters aren’t known for quietude, but Italian cabin completion and refurbishment specialist Mecaer has announced an AgustaWestland AW139 in which it has reduced cabin noise to 68 dBA—approximately what you’d experience in an average office. The noise-reduction package, called Silens, employs a shell of advanced composites, vibration- and noise-isolating attach points for the shell and proprietary soundproofing materials.
Live TV, with Lots of Channels
Rockwell Collins’s Tailwind 500 and Tailwind 550 multi-region, in-flight direct broadcast satellite systems allow live, high-definition and high-compression digital video (MPEG-4) programs in the business jet cabin. With Tailwind, passengers have access to “the most comprehensive selection and widest regional coverage of live television programming in the air or on the ground, [and] the addition of HD and MPEG-4 video enables hundreds of additional channels,” according to Steve Timm, vice president and general manager of flight information solutions for Rockwell Collins. The cabin electronics specialist claims to be the first company to offer these capabilities and says Tailwind with HD and MPEG-4 will be an option for new aircraft by sometime this August.
Little Box, Big Capabilities
Arinc Direct is jumping into the market for small, portable onboard communication devices that use the iPad as the control/display unit for cabin data services. The company’s product, called Xplore, is lightweight and just two inches thick. Users would carry it onto the aircraft as what is considered “loose equipment” not requiring FAA certification. Attaching it to a power outlet and an external dual Iridium/GPS antenna will enable communication with the Iridium satellite system.
The first Xplore software application will be a moving-map display and Arinc Direct is planning many more, including programs that give info on points of interest and weather in destination cities.
The company expected shipping to begin in late July, with a suggested retail price of $25,000. Installation of an Iridium/GPS antenna would add about $5,000 to the cost and would require an FAA supplemental type certificate. Xplore can, however, plug into an aircraft’s existing Iridium system. Arinc has not yet published usage prices, but it expects voice calls will run approximately $1.50 per minute. It is also considering a monthly package price of $700 to $800.
Sophisticated Satcom System to Debut
Satellite communications provider ViaSat and executive aircraft completion specialist L-3 Platform Integration have agreed to collaborate on an airborne satellite communication system. Designed for large business jets such as the BBJ and ACJ340, the system will include a hardware ship set and global network service from ViaSat. L-3 Platform will provide design, engineering, system integration, installation, passenger networking and certification. Following STC approval, the product will be made available to the industry in kit form.
Facial-recognition technology is coming to bizjet cabins, and enhanced security is just one of several benefits.
Is facial-recognition technology coming to business jet cabins? Flight Display Systems thinks so and is promoting equipment that employs the technology, not merely for security but as an enhancement to service.
Facial-recognition technology isn’t new. The German Federal Criminal Police offers it for all law-enforcement agencies in that country; casinos have been using it for years to identify known card counters and other blacklisted players; and the Pennsylvania Justice Network has been employing it since 2005 to solve cold cases.
Not every facial-recognition system has been successful, but new techniques such as 3-D sensing and skin-texture analysis are greatly improving its accuracy.
The system under development by Flight Display Systems, called See3, is based on Linus Fast Access facial-recognition software but with the addition of Flight Display’s proprietary and expanding set of algorithms. The hardware includes a camera (placed at the entrance of the aircraft) and a computer, both of which already have FAA approval. See3 uses nearly 100,000 values to code a facial image, and while accuracy ranges between 75 and 90 percent, Flight Display president David Gray expects those figures to improve “substantially” as algorithms are added.
The system will alert an aircraft crew if anyone not in the database enters the cabin, but Gray noted that security is only one of several advantages. Integrated into the cabin-management system, the technology can enhance passenger service by “recognizing an individual via an unobtrusive mini-cam focused on a seat.” As such, the system can greet people by name and automatically load their entertainment and lighting preferences. It can also provide the flight attendant with passengers’ names and information about allergies. “It creates a more individualized cabin environment than ever,” said Gray.
Flight Display Systems is apparently the only business aviation electronics supplier moving forward with facial-recognition software for corporate and private jets. A Lufthansa Technik spokesman stated that “we do not have any activities in that area.” At Custom Control Concepts in Kent, Washington, meanwhile, a spokesman said that “while we would be thrilled to investigate” if a client were interested, “we have yet to see a desire on the part of the end-users [for such a system].”
Flight Display Systems’ Gray, however, said, “We had enough interest in the idea…to keep us interested.” He added that the company might have its See3 product available as early as the second quarter of this year, at a hardware price of $9,275, not including any additional programming charges. —K.J.H.
Kirby Harrison welcomes comments and suggestions at email@example.com.